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Must go!
Rating 3.6 (250 votes)

The Summer Palace

Listed under Castles & Palaces in Beijing, China.

Photo of The Summer Palace
Photo by flickr user beggs
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Three thousand structures make up the Summer Palace which is like a vast museum to traditional Chinese art, architecture and gardening. Pavilions, bridges, towers, statues and corridors are included in this figure as well as shrines and larger buildings. The whole environment is carefully designed as a showcase for the intricate beauty of Chinese arts to compliment the equally revered natural environment.

A huge, two storey boat made of elaborately carved marble is understandably one of the main attractions, another is the Long Corridor, a richly covered decorated walkway running 730 metres and incorporating over 14,000 individual paintings depicting traditional scenes, great architecture, myths and heros.

The grand palace buildings are set on man made features Longevity Hill, topped by Duobao Pagoda and Kunming Lake which shape the layout of the rest of the compound. The hill was built with the soil from the lake which covers three quarters of the compound.

Most of the main structures are on the front of the hill above the lake, creating a crowded layout of competing grandeur which is just the right side of too busy. The back of the hill is designed with reflection in mind and is more like an incredibly opulent and well planned garden.

This setting was first used in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) for a garden, the Garden of Clear Ripples, which was much appreciated and replicated, then gradually built upon to become the Summer Palace. Long Corridor was part of the original construction and runs along the lake shore at the foot of the mountain - it was built to protect the emperor’s mother from the elements on her walks thorough the garden. South of the Long Corridor is the 17 Arch Bridge engraved with 500 lions.

Click here for a suggested route through the Summer Palace.

Summer Palace Guide.

Written by  World Reviewer Staff.

Other expert and press reviews

“Summer Palace and Imperial Garden”

'The Summer Palace in Beijing – first built in 1750, largely destroyed in the war of 1860 and restored on its original foundations in 1886 – is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined w… Read more...

Written by press. UNESCO

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

Lovely for the sake of it

That thing about Chinese people changing their names to make them easier for us Westerners to say is well known but I’m proud to say that the man, who on a cruise ship would be called an ‘Entertainments Officer’, in my Beijing hotel was called Storm. I’m assuming that’s not his job title, but he is fab and deserves it if it is. He recommended that instead of just going to the Summer Palace on the Subway we go via the Beijing Zoo and go on a pleasure boat cruise. The price of the zoo was included in the ticket so I got to see some Pandas, which I wasn’t expecting. One of them was asleep - apparently another cultural difference is that in China is that it’s totally acceptable to tap the glass to get zoo animals attention – but the result is still the same louche ambivalence from these ever smiling faces. Pandas are lovely, and far more people were crowding around them than the kangaroos, so I gave those fellow ex-pats a bit of attention to tide them over on the way to the pleasure boat. The canal ride probably wasn’t quite what it was when the royal family used to travel along it to get to their summer home away from home, but it was still entertaining if only for the fantastic tour group which joined us and sat engrossed in the loud commentary which was delivered almost without pauses for breath and definitely without punctuation.

As an aside, it appears that when Chinese people go into retirement they’re taken around the sights in matching hats like school children. First we saw the red caps, then the navy caps then the red cap and vests then the yellow hats then my favourites, the Burberry Sailors. Obviously this is not true but a large percentage of visitors to the Summer Palace today were older Chinese nationals. I was surprised that quite a few people wanted to have their photo taken with me. I think they must have thought I was an Olympian hanging back to take in the sights and I began to consider which event it was I may have competed in and whether I may possibly have won a medal… But that is definitely an aside…

…From the Summer Palace, where all my attention really lay. What a beautiful thing to create, a whole, lovely landscape, attractive views and ornate buildings as far as the eye can see in all directions. If I had an endless supply of labour I would love to create something even half as beautiful. I hope all the matching hats were proud; it was really magical. Not all of it has been repainted and kept perfectly but that only made it seem more precious and real, for example on the Seventeen Arched Bridge each lion has been carved with some kind of lizard climbing on it, some had a few on their heads which looked annoying while others had crushed the invaders under their feet – my favourite ones looked like they were about to shake them off playfully – but the fact that each one was original and imperfect in their differences made everything seem like so much more of an achievement. The paintings in the Long Corridor gave me the same feeling of quiet achievement, the patterned roof of individual gold dragons on blue was so much more fantastic because if the slight differences in the dragons. Labour intensive, expensive and wonderful, each dragon I’m sure was painted with its own story playing out in the mind of the artist.

I went the scenic route around the lake which meant that for a long time we walked alone beside lotus thick waters and narrow pathways lined with willows. It was silent and misty, the hills around us dotted with pagodas which I knew to be miniatures because I’d done the research but they still impressed me – who would think to build scaled down pagodas to improve the view, geniuses that’s who! I carefully considered the intentions behind the Temple of Collecting Moisture, and The Hall of Happiness and Longevity and the Gate whose Eaves Capture the Clouds, but my favourite was the Temple of Heartfelt Contentment. I sat on a beautiful stone carefully selected to be positioned in that spot purely for my enjoyment and I enjoyed the beauty of beauty and ornateness for the sake of pure pleasure, watching the boats sail across the lake, their yellow dragon heads only improving on the view.

Later as we were the last to leave the Lama Temple and had to rush down the steep stairs – the Lama Temple is the one you see rising, round on the hill in all the photos – because the staff were hosing off the beautiful goldfish-orange roofs to keep them in pristine condition, I thought about China’s labour-intensive traditions and about how many people it must always have taken to keep the Summer Palace wonderful, and I wondered if they enjoyed the part they played in creating all that beauty or if it was just a job.

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